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William L. Mallory Sr., a legendary figure in Ohio Democratic politics and patriarch of a family of Cincinnati politicians, died Tuesday morning, his family said.

In more than 200 years of Cincinnati’s history, no single family – not even the Tafts – dominated the political scene like the Mallorys. In fact, for Mallory Sr., 82, and his five sons, politics became the family business.

The family business


Mallory was born on Oct. 4, 1931, to a laborer and a maid who lived in the West End. It wasn’t long before the poor, skinny black kid became enthralled by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal.

Twenty years later, with Lyndon Johnson in office, Mallory signed on to the president’s War on Poverty, which laid the groundwork for his career and ultimately that of his sons in politics.

Elected to the Ohio House in November 1966, William Mallory Sr. stayed 28 years, until Dec. 31, 1994, establishing the unofficial “Mallory chair” now occupied by Dale Mallory, D-Cincinnati. Mallory Sr.’s was the longest term of continuous service in one chamber by any Hamilton County legislator in history. Term limits now restrict lawmakers to eight years at a time in either chamber.

He was the first African American to serve as majority floor leader, holding the post for 20 years, the longest service in that position in state history. As such, he was the right hand man of Vern Riffe, considered the most powerful House speaker in Ohio history. When Mallory stepped down at the end of 1994, he was replaced by son Mark, who later became a state senator and then two-term Cincinnati mayor.

Mallory Sr. had to buck his own party to get to the Legislature, beating a party-endorsed candidate in the 72nd Ohio House District primary. After winning the primary, he was elected easily in the fall. He then saw four governors come and go during his tenure in Columbus.

He sponsored or co-sponsored more than 600 pieces of legislation, some of which helped finance Riverfront Stadium and Fountain Square. He created a home furlough program for non-violent offenders upon their release from prison and his legislation created the state’s first drug prevention program.

People described him as goal-oriented, a problem-solver, the kind of person who worked around obstacles to get things done. It was that reputation that laid the groundwork for what became the Mallory political dynasty.

“It just happened. There was no master plan,” Mark Mallory said in 2008. “There was never a time when we all sat down with Dad and he said, ‘You’re going to run for this’ and ‘You’re going to run for that.’ It was just the way we were raised.”

West End political empire


“It was our mother as much as our father who motivated us,” Dale Mallory said in a 2008 interview with The Enquirer. “Once Dad was elected to the Legislature, he was gone a lot. But Mom was always there.”

Again and again, their mother, Fannie Mallory, told the boys and their sister – Leslie Denise Mallory, the only sibling not to pursue politics: “I don’t know what you are going to do with your lives. But you are going to do something.”

The Mallory children grew up walking the streets of their father’s West End district, stapling campaign posters to telephone poles, handing out fliers at the corner of Linn and Liberty.

William Sr.’s mother, Drusilla, worked in the homes of wealthy Cincinnatians. In 1943, 12-year-old William Sr. was sent to the family doctor to pick up his mother’s asthma medicine. The family doctor was R.P. McClain, an African American physician and the city’s second black councilman.

“I’d sit there for hours on end and listen to him talk politics,” William Sr. told The Enquirer in 2008. “He’s the one who got me excited about politics.”

McClain, like many black Cincinnatians of the time, was a Republican. Even as a youngster, however, William Sr. was a Roosevelt Democrat. He could name every member of FDR’s cabinet.

At 12, he showed up at the 18th Ward Democratic Club and was put to work – door-knocking, passing out literature on the streets of the West End for council candidate Ted Berry, doing odd jobs for party leaders. It was about that time he won his first election – secretary of student government at Bloom Junior High School. He also held the record for the long jump in track and field at the school.

William Sr. dropped out of high school and went to work at odd jobs – selling newspapers on the steps of city hall, hauling ice, unloading freight cars, setting up pins in a bowling alley and working as a junk man, camp counselor, bus boy and porter – all to make some extra money for his family and, he admitted, to “buy some of those fancy clothes we all wore in those days.”

He earned his high school diploma from East Vocational High School, then enrolled with little money at Central State University, a predominantly black college in Wilberforce. It was there he saw his future wife, a fellow student, walking across the college green.

“The love bug hit me,” he said.

Mallory Sr. worked his way through college, painting dormitories and working in the cafeteria. He graduated with honors in 1955 with a degree in elementary education. In 1972, the school awarded him its first honorary doctorate of laws degree.

He and Fannie were married in 1955. They returned to Cincinnati where he spent eight years teaching language arts and social studies at Dyer, Sands and Taft elementary schools.

He also held jobs as a case worker with the Hamilton County welfare department, the juvenile court and the Citizen’s Committee on Youth. He later became an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, teaching political science and African American studies for 25 years.

It was in 1965, when he ran for president of the West End Community Council and won, that his political career really began.

During a bus drivers’ strike that year, hundreds of West End residents who depended on the buses to get to work were stranded. Mallory and his wife organized a car pool with 10 volunteer drivers who would take people to work.

“I told (the volunteer drivers) they could accept money if they were offered it, but they were not to charge anything,” Mallory said. “People started accusing me of running a cab service, saying I got a cut. But I was just trying to help people in the neighborhood. I thought it was my job to do that.”

In 1986, Mallory Sr., with his son Mark, went to the federal courthouse in downtown Cincinnati and filed a lawsuit that ultimately changed the face of Cincinnati politics.

The suit challenged Hamilton County’s at-large municipal court election system, saying it diluted black voting power and prevented the election of black judges.

Six years later, he won the battle – the at-large system was struck down and replaced by a district system. One of the beneficiaries of the change was Mallory’s son, William Jr., who was elected as a municipal judge in the 1st District. William Jr., who had worked in the Ohio attorney general’s office, became the first of the second generation of Mallorys to win public office.

Life as a prominent African American wasn’t easy. Mallory and his family were the recipients of three death threats.

Mallory Sr. was the founder of the nonprofit Mallory Center for Community Development, which sponsors the annual African American Historical Ball. He also won numerous awards for his contributions to the community, and his support for education, public transportation, mental health and civil liberties issues.

“He’s a teacher,” Mark Mallory said of his father. “He guides people. He’s a mentor and a motivator. And he instilled that in every one of us.”


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